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The colonial lie celebrating 74 years of forgery and land theft

May 12, 2022 at 9:00 am

Palestinian in Gaza protests the right to return to their homeland on 14 May 2018 [Mahmoud Khattab/Apaimages]

The European colonisation rush of conquering other peoples across the world had its own narrative and justifications to make its case for itself, and for its own public opinion in explaining otherwise unexplainable sins of occupation. It had to make sense, too. Major former colonial powers like France, Great Britain and Italy used similar narratives to underline their military invasion of other nations. A more “modern” narrative is still being used even today.

For example when France conquered Algeria, in 1830, its invasion was a mission to modernise Algeria, and making it “French Algeria” was the best way to achieve the objective. Algeria became a French department simply for its own “sake and that of its people”. In the end, “civilising” Algeria turned out to be the first Western annihilation of an Arab country since the Crusades, and it was a costly adventure in which over a million Algerians lost their lives. However, ironically, it succeeded in making the Muslim country, Algeria, a top world producer of wine to meet the surging French market demand of the red drink.

Some 80 years later, colonial Italy would use the same idea, among others, to justify its colonisation of Libya in 1911. The Italians, at the height of their own madness under Benito Mussolini, also, claimed that Libya, which is nearly 500 times bigger than Italy, is the “forth shore of Rome.” To give that idea life, thousands of poor, especially large peasant Italian families, were taken to Libya, across the Mediterranean to inhabit and cultivate the fertile coastal lands. Italo Balbo, the first Italian military governor of “Italian Libya”, wanted Italians to make Libya their own land at the expense of Libyans—just as the French made Algeria. Such lies became facts, even if for a while.

Here is an American volunteer nurse, turned journalist accompanying the invaders, Ruth Ricci Eltse, describing the Italian army’s mission as a “task” to only “open up roads through which civilisation will flow into the rich lands to be fertilised by the sweat of their brows.”

READ: Nakba Day is when Palestinians remember the catastrophe of their land being stolen

Modern day occupier, Israel, would still use the same narrative, but with the added flavour that empty lands should be taken over by those willing to inhabit them, regardless of the indigenous population. In the earlier start of the Palestinian Nakba, pioneering settler Zionists described Palestine as a “land without people” making it the right place for “people [Jewish] without land”. Some of them visited Palestine and reported back how the land was, indeed, empty and taking it over should be a straightforward matter, with little expected resistance.

That 1940s expectation of little resistance turned out to be the most brutal campaign in human history and the most inhumane, in progress, occupation after World War Two.

Moshe Sharett, one of the earlier Zionists, mastered the courage to announce that Palestine was not an empty land but a populated country, yet the Zionists did not mind “conquering” it, with the help of the British Empire, simply displacing its people to nowhere.  A Ukrainian, from Kerson, Sharett, went on to become Israel’s prime minister, from 1953 to 1955,  after serving as an interpreter for the Ottoman Empire, and no one stopped to hold him accountable for his actions, including propagating such a blatant lie that Palestine is available to be taken. In 1914, Sharett wrote saying the Zionists are forgetting the fact that they are not coming to “an empty land to inherit it,” but they are conquering “a country from a people inhabiting it”. He explained that the only way for such land theft to succeed and become Israel is by making sure that Palestinians are removed for good, otherwise the Zionist “enterprise” will be “lost”, as he put it.

As early as 1899, sensing the Zionist intentions of invading Palestine, horrified Yusuf Diya Al-Khalidi, an Ottoman politician and former Mayor of Jerusalem (1842-1906), wrote to Theodor Herzl, the Hungarian Jew and founder of modern Zionism, warning against the idea of Jewish settlements in Palestine, before screaming “In the name of God, leave Palestine alone.”

In his response, Herzl wrote to Yusuf Diya, reassuring him, that European Jews would not take over Palestine nor did they intend to displace its inhabitants. Instead, they were coming to Palestine to improve the life of its population—same old colonial narrative. This, Herzl believed, would happen through Jewish “intelligence” and finances. He concluded by announcing that, undoubtedly “the well-being of the entire country would be the happy result”, for the Palestinians and the new settlers.

This kind of narrative, more of propagandist lies really, might sound like a joke in today’s “civilised” world but, unfortunately, it went on to become a fact of life and, this May, that lie is celebrating its 74 anniversary, while Israel glorifies its “independence” after it made millions of Palestinians a mere historic background detail, not only to Israel but to the entire “civilised” world.

READ: Israel extends collective punishment to grandparents, neighbours and friends 

Propagating new colonial era through lies became more elusive ways, while maintaining the basic idea of “colonise” in order to “modernise” and “liberate”, after the emergence of the United States as a dominant superpower after the Second World War.

The invasion of Iraq, the US told the world, was a favour and free charity to help Iraqis build a new modern, democratic and peaceful country, despite over a million Iraqis dead and the destruction of one of the world’s oldest nations. In 2011, the US and other former colonial powers invaded Libya, again, to help Libyans achieve the kind of “paradise” their fellow Arab Iraqis have been swamped in since the invasion of 2003.

However, the Zionist lie, justifying colonising Palestine, stands out as a unique situation in which lies get recognised as facts, backed by the same superpowers that used a different version to make their own “modern” colonisation case, as they did in both Iraq and Libya. What is unique about the Israeli occupation of Palestine is this: while France left Algeria, Italy left Libya and the United Kingdom left Egypt, they are all still helping Israel take more Palestinian land, reject any peace attempts and sending more Palestinians into exile and internal displacement just as the earlier Zionists intended.

Israel at 74 is, in a way, a living Zionist lie, just like centuries old previous colonial lies, that went on to become a reality through brutality and aggression.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.